This April, Unyts was inspired by four stories of organ, eye, and tissue donation. While each story is unique, one thing remains the same - Claudia, Aaron, Nicole, and Mark are all heroes.
Claudia Kurjakovic loved traveling, current events, acting, and horseback riding. She also struggled with mental illness. Claudia was only 31 years old when she took her own life on April 4th, 2017. She was a registered organ donor. In order to honor Claudia's wishes, her mother Cindy donated her daughter's organs.
That’s when Joshua Hill came into Cindy’s life. Back in 2016, the then 13-year-old found out his kidneys were functioning at about 40% and that he was in kidney failure. After Claudia’s passing, Joshua went through testing to see if her kidney would be a match, and it was! Then Joshua went straight into surgery. When he came out of surgery, he felt much better, sat up in bed, and even told his family that he was hungry.
Two weeks later, Cindy met Joshua for the first time. Cindy and Joshua's family have been close ever since. They even send Cindy Mother’s Day flowers and have had dinner outings together. Cindy and Joshua’s parents Aaron and Charmaine Hill want to share their story during Donate Life Month because it highlights the need for organ donors and the importance of mental health awareness.
Claudia saved multiple lives through her wish to be an organ donor including a female teenager who received her liver, a man in his 60s who received her heart, another man in his 40s who received her other kidney and pancreas, and a woman who can now walk thanks to Claudia’s femur.
On Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 at 1:35 am, Aaron Michael Ebling gave his FINAL gift ~ the GIFT OF LIFE!
In Aaron’s 24 short years, he lived his life to the fullest. He was always there for his family and his friends, no matter what time of the day or night. He had a warm, kind, generous, and loving heart, with a quirky sense of humor.
Aaron was all about family and loved when all the family was gathered especially at holidays – he was still like a little boy at heart at Christmas-time. He was truly devoted to his niece; Kayla Rose who suffers from extreme cerebral palsy. He would spend every opportunity he could with her, just holding her especially when she was sick as she’d fall asleep in his arms.
You could often find him reading to her or feeding her yummies. In the summer, you’d always find her in Uncle Aaron’s arms in the pool and you’d hear both of them giggling and laughing. She loved when he’d spin her round ‘n round – making her get those deep belly laughs.
Like any little boy, Aaron loved playing with tools and cars and trucks. He grew up learning about cars and engines and would be found alongside his dad and older brother, Andy, spending hours in our garage.
Aaron’s dad started him out with mini bikes, dirt bikes, and 4-wheelers. Then it was cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Aaron and his brother always seemed to have a "project" vehicle they were working on and would pull dad in on it. Then it was off to the racetrack with all of them.
After high school, Aaron attended ECC for Auto Mechanical/Collision and accepted a position at a local collision shop where he loved working his magic and using the plethora of colors in his paint booth.
Unfortunately, our son made some terrible choices. In March of 2015, we were devastated to learn our son was struggling with a drug addiction and although he was attending outpatient rehab, he found he needed more help and had requested inpatient care. Unfortunately, the call did not come in time and our son overdosed on Saturday evening of June 27th, 2015. He was finally revived and rushed to a local hospital where he was placed on life support.
On Sunday, June 28th, Darlene Aymerich from Unyts introduced herself. She was so kind and compassionate as she gently inquired about the possibility of organ donation. Knowing our son and who he was, we felt comfortable giving our consent.
Darlene was with us every day comforting us and stayed with us as we kissed our son goodbye on Wednesday morning, July 1st. As we sat in the waiting room, Darlene remained in constant communication with the Unyts nurse in the OR. At 1:25 am, I knew our son had passed before the nurse called to confirm. At 4:30am, Darlene called us at home to inform us that Aaron’s organs had been successfully recovered.
Aaron’s liver was successfully transplanted into a man from New Jersey and with the assistance of Unyts, he has reached out to us to offer his sincere condolences and gratitude at a second chance at better health. Both of Aaron’s kidneys were successfully transplanted locally and I have been informed both recipients are enjoying a healthier life free from dialysis. Aaron’s corneas have also given two recipients the gift of sight.
These miracles have turned a tragedy into blessings – giving the GIFT OF LIFE.
Darlene and Unyts continue to be a part of my life. I cherish the friendship Darlene and I have and will always be grateful to Unyts for allowing our son to go on in others.
Robin Ebling (donor mom)
Nicole was a loving, caring, daughter, sister, and friend. Her devotion and love for her younger siblings Kevin and Christina made her a second mom. Her guidance and support for them, while all too brief, will be carried with them for the rest of their lives.
Her personality and laugh were infectious. Her passion for playing her guitar and singing with her sister were well known. She had a favorite saying “Stay Strong” in reference to her overcoming her battle with bulimia.
Nicole was introduced to Unyts in high school and immediately became a blood donor. She also made it known to her mom and dad she wanted to be an organ donor.
On May 4, 2016 while taking her boyfriend to a doctor’s appointment, Nicole was involved in a terrible car accident. Upon arrival at the hospital, we were met with horrific news. With Nicole’s injuries, her mom and dad knew Nicole’s wishes to be an organ donor were about to be fulfilled. She was 20 years old.
Her legacy continues through her donations, speaking engagements, and the Nicole P. Lester Memorial Scholarship given to a graduating senior from Frontier High School from where Nicole graduated in 2013.
Mark's gift to Unyts was his last contribution to the world, but he had many others in his lifetime. Anyone that knew Mark would describe him as a quick witted, intelligent, and kind man. He was the kind of guy who did all he could to help his community including serving his community through various committees and groups.
He was the Village Trustee in Hamburg at the time of his death and through his work he led many projects that continue to impact the Village. He was an active coach for Hamburg Youth Lacrosse and the Hamburg Hawks Hockey Association. His impact on the kids he coached was evident. If you look around you'll see "Coach MC" stickers on cars in Hamburg or on the Varsity lacrosse players' helmets.
Mark's interest in organ donation was just another example of his commitment to serving others.
I knew that I needed to follow through on his desire to be an organ donor when he passed away suddenly in 2016. I was given the opportunity to donate directly to a man in Hamburg, David Rice, which happened to be a friend of a friend. I know that Mark would have been honored to help this family in the way that he did.
I had the amazing experience a year later to meet David in a chance meeting at a work function. It was an incredible experience and one that I feel very fortunate to have had. I have always been proud to be Mark's wife, but that may have been one of the proudest moments I had. I would encourage anyone who suffers a loss to consider giving yourself the gift of turning a tragic event into one that bring joy.
His loving wife,